Minding your cell-phone manners . . .
It was a blisteringly hot day in August. I waved to my son who had shimmied to the top of the diving board and was preparing to leap into the area of the pool where the 7-8 year-olds were collected. After a moment of cheering him on enthusiastically, as he was led away by the instructor of the beginner's swimming class at Livermore Aquatic Center, I let my shoulders sag. The next thirty minutes stretched in front of me in sheer monotony. I wish I had thought to grab a book or magazine to keep me company while I waited for my son's class to finish.
Tring, Tring. The number that flashed on my cell phone screen was that of my best friend and neighbor. The welcome distraction of a gossip-infused exchange of Who Wore What at last night's shindig beckoned. I glanced around furtively. An older balding man with a tanned face and large piercing eyes slouched on a bench behind me. There was more than four feet between us. Ahead of me, also on the bleachers, was seated a young mother who was busy fussing over a small infant on her lap.
I snatched up my phone and launched into a juicy gossip session while being careful to cover my mouth for the next five minutes. I thought I'd kept my voice sufficiently low and discreet but when I hung up the phone, the balding man yelled at me about how rude I had been. That got me thinking: what's the difference between talking to a person sitting next to you and talking on the phone in public, if you're speaking in a normal tone of voice?
It appears that researchers seem to be fascinated by this difference as well. In a study in Psychological Science, Laura Emberson, Ph.D. uses the term "halfalogue" to describe the frustrating one-sidedness of an overheard phone call. She and her colleagues hypothesize that we're more distracted because our curious brains can't help trying to fill in the bits we don't hear, despite the fact that we're unwillingly engaged in the first place. This theory is supported by a study at Michigan State University in which sociologists found that live conversation between two audible speakers was deemed less rude than any conversation—whether via phone or face-to-face—in which only one side could be heard. These researchers also noted what you might have long suspected: although most people don't mean to be ill-mannered, many get into a bubble while talking on a cell phone; they're unconscious, unconcerned and louder than they think!
Moral of the story: Take calls outside or in a hallway when you're in a public place like a waiting room (or yes, at a swimming pool) and when riding public transportation, either don't answer your phone or tell your caller you will talk later because the people around you are captive audiences—they can't simply leave. In other words, Quit Your Yapping!